The English National Sheepdog Trials were held in the heart of the Cotswolds last weekend. The English National is the most prestigious event in the sheepdog trialling calendar and attracts interest throughout the UK and abroad. The top 150 English sheepdogs and their Handlers competed for a chance to represent England at the 2014 International Trials which will be held in County Roscommon in Ireland in September. The English Nationals take place on Friday 15th, Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th August; the five highest competitors from each day won a place in theEngland team. At the end of the third day’s competition, there was a runoff between the winners from each day to find the overall English Champion and the England Team Captain, which turned out to be James Howardand Wisp from Homefirth in Huddersfield.
However sheepdogs could lose their jobs to robots after scientists learned the secret of their herding ability. Rounding up sheep successfully is a simple process involving just two basic mathematical rules, a study found. One causes a sheepdog to close any gaps it sees between dispersing sheep. The other results in sheep being driven forward once the gaps have sufficiently closed. A computer simulation showed that obeying these two rules alone allowed a single shepherd – or sheepdog – to control a flock of more than 100 animals. The discovery has implications for human crowd control as well as the development of robots that can gather and herd livestock, the scientists said. The lead researcher, Dr Andrew King, from Swansea University, said: "If you watch sheepdogs rounding up sheep, the dog weaves back and forth behind the flock in exactly the way that we see in the model. We had to think about what the dog could see to develop our model. It basically sees white, fluffy things in front of it. If the dog sees gaps between the sheep, or the gaps are getting bigger, the dog needs to bring them together."
Colleague Daniel Strömbom, a mathematician from Uppsala University in Sweden, added: "At every time step in the model, the dog decides if the herd is cohesive enough or not. If not cohesive, it will make it cohesive, but if it's already cohesive the dog will push the herd towards the target. Other models don't appear to be able to herd really big groups – as soon as the number of individuals gets above 50 you start needing multiple shepherds or sheepdogs." To conduct the study, the researchers fitted a flock of sheep and a sheepdog with backpacks containing highly accurate GPS satnavs. Movement-tracking data from the devices was programmed into computer simulations to develop the mathematical shepherding model.
Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the researchers concluded: "Our approach should support efficient designs for herding autonomous, interacting agents in a variety of contexts. Obvious cases are robot-assisted herding of livestock, and keeping animals away from sensitive areas, but applications range from control of flocking robots, cleaning up of environments and human crowd control." Previous strategies for guiding large numbers have involved either the whole group or a leader "homing in" on a target heading. A simpler alternative is to shepherd such groups, using the algorithm which we have described here," said the scientists. "This would be particularly useful for guiding robots back to a base after completion of some task."
It was definitely not a successful evening for the Robots as the closure of one lane on the M25 left traffic chaos all over the region and a few Members to miss the 7.30pm start time; then the computer that supports the Automated Scoring system gave up the ghost!! But we managed to get by with the old manual systems. Under the excellent direction of Director Kevin Goddard - performing his duties at Oxshott for the first time - we made up the Tables for the missing Members, issued manual Travellers, and still managed to complete 22 Boards by the 10.30pm closing time. Well done indeed!! You can read all about the evening's play in the Report by clicking on the "News" tab in the Menu to the left of this box. Alternatively you can study the full Leaderboard and the individual Travellers by clicking on the "Latest Result" button at the top right of this page.